As housing prices in Hong Kong continue to soar, developers have been generally viewed as selfish profiteers with their stranglehold on the city's homes supply. (Photo provided to China Daily)
Hong Kong people used to admire and lionize the real-estate tycoons as models of success and ingenuity. Stories of their exploits in business and in private had helped sell dozens of gossip magazines which were staple reading material for the young and not-so-young.
But, the public's view of this group of developers who have amassed vast and fabulous fortunes changed rapidly for the worse in the big property market crash after the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Their public image has taken another dive in the past two years as property prices surged to levels fewer and fewer people could afford.
Now, these tycoons are reviled as a group of selfish profiteers taking advantage of the public through their stranglehold on the supply of apartments. Indeed, they are taking a big share of the blame for worsening the housing shortage problem that has become a major source of public discontent.
Perhaps, they can all use a lesson on community mindedness. In fact, there is a master course at Columbia University in New York that teaches just that. Course director Patrice Derrington told the BBC what we all knew too well. "Property developers have a terrible reputation," he said.
It's not a course for the idealists. In fact, the course has produced some of New York's leading real-estate developers among students. Each year, about 100 students took the course which focuses on the needs of the community rather than profit maximization.
Contrary to popular belief, the most important voice in a building project should belong to the local community around the site, argued Derrington. "Today, a successful developer needs to be patient and listen to the community," he added.
In their rush to make a fast buck by tearing down entire neighborhoods and destroying community lifestyles in the name of urban renewal, developers in Hong Kong don't have anyone to blame, but themselves, for running into stiffening political roadblocks.
Link Reit, for instance, is seen to have successfully added shareholders' value by renovating its malls to maximize rental income. In so doing, it is widely vilified for driving out the neighborhood stores that cater to the low-income families living in nearby housing estates.